In my last blog post I discussed the need for more teaching both by our education establishments as well as employers in order to help train a knowledgeable and skilled workforce that has the necessary skills to harvest the big data wave and help organizations monetize information. After all, everywhere you look, we’re being told that big data equals big value, right?
But no sooner did I post my thoughts, I read an interesting article from analyst firm Gartner that would have us believe that the term big data is about to plummet off the “peak of inflated expectations” and fall into the “trough of disillusionment.” If you’re an avid follower of Gartner’s Hype Cycle reports, these terms will be familiar. If you are not, then don’t worry – Gartner’s opinion is just one of many out there; others in the industry have done research that would suggest that for every one negative comment about big data, there are at least three positive ones.
But we’re in danger of getting stuck in an academic argument played out by analysts, industry pundits, consulting firms and vendors alike. In my opinion, businesses don’t care for the term big data per se, they care about running their operations, satisfying their customers, building their business. They care about whether they have the know-how and workforce to help surmount business issues when analyzing and acting upon large and complex data sets, ranging from structured data in on-premise applications to unstructured data feeds coming from the cloud. They don’t tend to refer to the term big data when explaining their challenges. In fact, remember when e-business was big in the late 90s? Then everyone realized it was just business and dropped the ‘e’. Today big data is ‘big’, but in years to come, folks may just call it called data.
Whether you believe that the term big data is here to stay or doomed to pass, the fact remains that there is a plethora of opportunities out there for those who are prepared to embrace them. And the savvy businesses out there are digging deep to help fund the salaries of those that know what to do with big data. Dice.com’s annual salary survey reveals that job candidates with big data technology expertise command an average salary of $100k, some $20k more than other co-workers skilled in other areas of IT, for example in mobile technology. It seems that companies are prepared to pay big bucks for those who can when it comes to big data.
But just what are these jobs? Again, the argument surrounding the term big data is superfluous. No-one advertises for a “big data guru”. Instead, you see job adverts for “data scientists”, “data architects” or “data engineers.” More recently, and as shared by our customer Atheon Analytics, the term “data animator” is one that is increasingly becoming popular. This is a term that makes more sense to me as it conjures up the image of someone who can cope with data of any shape and size and turn it into something visual, something creative, something alive that tells a story and that can be easily understood to make decisions and act upon an occurrence or a situation in the business. Everyone loves a good story and the human brain digests visual content much more easily than trawling through lines of a report or staring at another pie chart, just trying to figure out what it is meant to show. These animators go beyond the static nature of spreadsheets and charts, they bring data to life in a way that allows businesses to get to grip with their data as well as think creatively about what they are doing with their data.
In fact, I believe that data animators will grow in popularity and become more commonplace just as data scientists and data architects will. And as there is more of them getting to grips with data, there will emerge new executives to manage them. Chief Digital Officers and Chief Analytic Officers may well be the next wave of company board members who spearhead the pursuit of extracting value from their business data.
In summary, I don’t believe we should be pessimistic and give up on the term big data. Yes, the expression itself may drop from our vocabulary, but let’s put semantics to one side; the fact remains that organizations continue to see enough potential in their data and information that they are willing to invest and pay for expertise that can analyze and do something valuable with it.
In fact, the need for businesses to mine, analyze, predict, decide and act – all based on data – will be as prevalent as ever, bolstered by an ever-increasing number of data experts who know how to analyze and act upon data and information. That is the future ahead of us. Thus, to the point of my previous blog post, it has never been more important to ensure we can satisfy this demand with good data-oriented education and training.